Monday, June 17, 2013

African Independence [2013]

MPAA (UR)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Official Website

African Independence [2013] (written and directed by African American sociologist/film maker Tukufu Zuberi [IMDb]) is am excellent, well presented, feature length documentary that played recently at the 11th Chicago African Diaspora Film Festival at Facets Multimedia in Chicago.  Besides being scheduled to play this summer at film festivals throughout the United States both as part of the African Diaspora Film Festival program and beyond, it has also caught the attention of film festival organizers (and has played) in Brazil, Africa and Europe. 

The film follows the history of the modern African Independence movement from its origins following the end of World War II to the fall of Apartheid in South Africa in 1990.  Since Africa, the second largest and second most populous continent in the world, is both a large and diverse place with over 1 billion inhabitants living among 54 different countries spread across the continent, while making as needed references to others, the film-maker decided to focus on the experiences of four countries Ghana, Zambia, Kenya and South Africa in his presentation of the topic.

Ghana, the former British colony of "The Gold Coast" was the first sub-saharan African country to achieve independence.  Its independence leader Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first Prime Minister and later President, had studied abroad and was very much influenced by famed African American scholar W.E.B. DuBois. Indeed, both Kwama Nkrumah and W.E.B. DuBois were instrumental in organizing the 5th Pan African Congress in Manchester, England in 1945 which proved to be a seminal moment for the modern African Independence movement.  Ghana's independence did not arrive until 12 years later.  However, the seeds were planted at that conference and Ghana's independence was achieved by-and-large peacefully through philosophical persuasion (The colonial project had proven to be morally bankrupt in the horror of World War II when Nazi Germany had tried effectively to colonize Poland/Russia and even France.  In the post-War era, the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared all human beings regardless of race or national origin to be endowed with fundamental human rights.  Thus the moral underpinning behind Europe's maintaining large swathes of non-European lands under their domination had evaporated).

Ghana's independence offered the hope that all of Africa's independence could be achieved peacefully.  However, this proved not to be the case.  As noted by Kenneth Kaunda, independence leader and first president of Zambia, interviewed extensively in the film, wherever there was a substantial European minority present, independence came only after a protracted and often violent struggle.  Zambia, the former British colony of Northern Rhodesia still had a relatively small European population, hence independence still came relatively easily (though less easily and less peacefully than in Ghana).  However, in other places, notably in Kenya (whose experience was discussed extensively in the documentary) and Algeria (which perhaps due to similarities with the experiences of Kenya and South Africa, was not) where there were substantial European and otherwise non-native settler populations, the struggles proved to be much more violent.  Among those interviewed in the documentary was a woman who had been involved in Kenya's violent 1952-60 Mau Mau uprising. 

The most difficult situation proved to be that of South Africa.  Here the film-maker, Tukufu Zuberi [IMDb], does a truly remarkable job in presenting the complexities involved by interviewing BOTH of the last two Apartheid-era presidents of then white dominated South Africa P.W. Botha and F.W. de Klerk. (Honestly, film-maker,Tukufu Zuberi [IMDb]'s willingness to include extensive interviews with these to men, and then to allow them to express themselves calmly and clearly, testifies to the sobriety and quality of this project.

So what were the complexities of the South African situation?  First, as F.W. de Klerk pointed-out in his interview, the first modern anti-colonial revolt against the European powers in Africa was undertaken by the (white) South African "Boers," that is to say that after 300 years of living on the land of South Africa, the Afrikaners though of European origin (in times long past) did/do consider themselves to be African (and this was a position that Nelson Mandela's African National Congress also accepted even as it called for a true multiracial South Africa rather than one divided between races/ethnicities).  The second complication was, of course, that of the Cold War, which forced all African nation states to choose allegiances between the two Super Powers (the United States and the Soviet Union) that didn't necessarily make sense to, much less serve the interests of Africans.   P.W. Botha underlined this aspect of the South African conflict noting that a great deal of white South Africans (who were the richer and far more landed parties in South Africa) were simply terrified of the Communists.  (And it should be noted that within a year after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, the still Apartheid regime of South Africa legalized legalized Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and released him from prison and four years after that Nelson Mandela was elected as the first president of today's multiracial state of South Africa).

Still the documentary notes well that the Cold War era battle that raged against the Apartheid regime in  South Africa engulfed not merely South Africa itself but also Namibia, Zimbabwe, the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique as well as the already independent but still "front-line" states such as Zambia and Tanzania.  And this decades long conflict came quite quickly to an end following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

So today Africa is no longer under colonial control.  Instead Africans now rule Africans across the continent.  What's next for Africa?  It would be the thesis of the film maker, Tukufu Zuberi [IMDb], that the next steps for Africa would be toward greater unity, to take-up anew the Pan-African project envisioned by W.E.B. DuBois and Ghana's independence leader Kwama Nkrumah.  As the film maker noted, Europe, divided for centuries and having suffered through two cataclysmic wars in the last century has recognized the value of coming together as a single entity.  Africa too would benefit from being able to speak more clearly with a united voice.  Finally, African themselves have to begin to think in terms of actions and policies that serve the interests of Africa rather than the interests of outsiders.

All in all, this is an excellent, well organized, thought provoking presentation about where Africa was, where it is today, and where it can go in the future.  For those interested in history, human rights as well as geopolitics, this documentary is well worth the viewing.  Good job!

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